State’s largest employers sitting out the abortion debate

July 29, 2022 7:00 am

During the RFRA debate, House Speaker Brian Bosma delivered cookies with this note to reporters. (Niki Kelly/Indiana Capital Chronicle)

The furor that enveloped Indiana in 2015 after passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was swift and effective. And that’s because the state’s major employers stepped in to demand action.

Their silence during the ongoing abortion debate is deafening.

While hundreds of smaller businesses have signed onto letters, attended press conferences and testified in the Senate — Indiana’s largest employers are taking a hands-off approach.

Eli Lilly and Company declined comment for this column. As did the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Only Zimmer Biomet in Warsaw had something to say, though in a letter sent to employees after the Dobbs v. Jackson decision was handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

President, CEO and Chairman Bryan Hanson said “Zimmer Biomet, as a company, will not advocate for or against abortion. I don’t believe this is a place or time for individuals in leadership, or leadership teams, to allow their personal beliefs to be imposed on others. This is clearly an extremely personal decision, and should remain that way.”

But the letter went on to say the company is committed to providing reimbursement for U.S. team members who need to travel for covered medical services not available within 100 miles of their homes, including reproductive healthcare.

“Ultimately, we believe that team members should make their own healthcare decisions in consultation with their healthcare provider – and, ZB intends to support those decisions by ensuring equal, consistent and safe access to the benefits we provide for our team members,” Hanson said.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce doesn’t have a position on abortion and told WTHR, “Given that we are a membership organization, we generally only take positions on business issues and when there is strong consensus among our membership base or representative leadership group. Like much of the state, our members have differing viewpoints on social issues, which leads us to not weigh in on those.”

Anthem, Cummins and Salesforce didn’t return calls or emails.

RFRA fallout

Compare that to 2015.

The RFRA bill established a legal defense for businesses citing religious beliefs against government regulation. Opponents noted this could be used to override anti-discrimination statutes protecting LGBTQ Hoosiers.

It passed the Senate pretty quietly but picked up opposition in the House. By the time a full House vote happened people were taking notice. And when former Gov. Mike Pence signed it in private – surrounded by faith and conservative leaders – all hell broke loose.

National media descended on the Statehouse; Pence had a particularly disastrous Sunday morning interview with George Stephanopoulos; Hoosiers protested at the building and additional security was added at the doors.

Angie’s List – now Angi – canceled an expansion. Leadership of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway trekked to then-House Speaker Brian Bosma’s office to pressure a fix. Convention organizers began rethinking plans. The CEO of Apple denounced the law.

Nine business leaders, including the CEOs of Anthem Inc., Eli Lilly and Co. and Indiana University Health, sent letters to Pence and Bosma raising concerns about the negative image being labeled on the state.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce also stepped into the fray, saying, “We communicated that a legislative fix must be significant and make it crystal clear that the law does not in any way open the door for discrimination of any kind toward any individual or group of individuals,” said State Chamber President Kevin Brinegar. “Unfortunately, Indiana has taken a tremendous hit to its national identity as a welcoming and hospitable state. The business community is concerned about losing contracts and customers for a law that it did not support and did not want to see happen.”

Within days lawmakers passed a fix to the measure and Pence quickly signed it into law.

It’s hard to imagine the same fervor over an abortion ban, much less backtracking and fixing it later, without hearing from Indiana’s business community.

I guess lining up against discrimination is far easier than supporting reproductive rights and bodily autonomy – even if Indiana has been making headlines again this week for a near virtual abortion ban.


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Niki Kelly
Niki Kelly

Niki has covered the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 – including five governors. She has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists and Hoosier State Press Association for stories on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, criminal justice issues and more. She also is a regular on Indiana Week in Review, a weekly public television rundown of news. She shifts her career to helm a staff of three and ensure Hoosiers know what’s really happening on the state level.